Crazed N.Y. fans have green thumb for their Garden


NEW YORK -- For Patti Moyles, the bidding starts at $5 million. For the longtime suffering New York Rangers fan, anything less than $5 million for her ticket to tonight's Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals would be considered an indecent proposal -- even if Robert Redford were making the offer.

"People ask me if I'd sell my ticket, and I tell them anything less than $5 million and I'd laugh in your face," said Moyles, sporting a limited edition Rangers pin on one side of her shirt, and a Stanley Cup pin on the other. "If I didn't have a ticket, I'd sell my soul to get one."

A frightening thought. But don't think that Moyles is alone. The hottest ticket in New York these days is not for some Broadway show. Not for Pink Floyd, which attracted more than 100,000 fans to two concerts at Yankee Stadium during the weekend.

If you're a New Yorker, you want to be at Madison Square Garden, where tonight the Rangers will attempt to win the Stanley Cup title for the first time in 54 years, and where tomorrow the New York Knicks try to bounce back to even their series against the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals.

"A ticket scalper's dream," one scalper, who would not give his name, said outside the Garden yesterday. Two teen-agers then caught his attention and he walked away saying, "Can't talk, I got customers right now."

Two potential championships, one building, one city.

Since everyone loves a winner, the Knicks and Rangers have created enough hysteria with hockey and basketball jerseys the latest fashion craze. Even people who can't tell a goal-tend from a goalie are jumping on the already-crowded bandwagon.

"I've got to get me a ticket," said Margarita Mendez, who's been calling the Garden daily for tickets.

Imagine the laughter on the phone at the Garden box office, a call for a ticket during the week of the NBA Finals? Mendez is to be excused -- she's only been a Knicks fan for about a year.

In fact, the Knicks have attracted more and more fans over the past three years, when Pat Riley brought his slicked-back hair and Armani suits to the sidelines. The Knicks got better, and the fans piled on.

True basketball aficionados here remember the lean days when die-hard fan Spike Lee was the only celebrity at courtside -- and was chased away by ushers, as the scrawny film director had yet to reach the big time.

Now there's a celebrity watch at Knicks games, with Jack Nicholson, Bill Murray, Richard Lewis, Woody Allen and Donald Trump among those who are now regulars watching a team looking to win its first championship since 1973.

Can you imagine Trump at the Garden when the Knicks were winning 23 games and finishing in last place?

"The basketball fans are trendy fans, corporate types," said Tommy Michos, a Staten Island resident and an expert on Garden fans -- he works at the pizzeria downstairs.

"Now the Rangers fans, they're more of your loyal fans," Michos added. "You see the same faces all the time. They're mostly blue-collar, and they spend a lot more money."

And they've done a lot of suffering over the years, having failed to win a championship since 1940. Heartache? Rangers fans have mastered it. They thought they'd be drinking from the Stanley Cup after taking a 3-1 lead in the series last week. Instead the Rangers -- who compiled the best record in hockey during the regular season -- have lost two straight and could wind up suffering one of the biggest embarrassments in sports with a loss tonight.

"I was there in [1972] when the Boston Bruins skated with the Cup around the Garden," said Vinny Trivett, a Rangers fan since hTC 1968. "I wanted to cry. That was the most frustrating time for me. The Rangers have been bleeding blue blood for a long, long time."

To a point where the start of the season can be akin to a class of kids who repeat the same grade. At the start of each season they greet each other after months apart, and lean on each other during the year through repeated tests and challenges. This year the fans want to advance -- they want the Cup.

"We're bonded by a common cause," said Kevin Belin, a resident of the Bronx and a longtime fan of both the Knicks and the Rangers. "Fifty-four years of not winning makes you devoted."

And at times a little crazed. Ken Dias, a Rangers fan for 30 years, has gone as far as taking out an ad in the paper for tickets to the finals.

"Some guy called the other day and offered me a ticket for $2,000 -- he said he just wanted to offset the cost of his season tickets," Dias said. "What a guy."

Dias did get lucky last week for Game 5, when the Rangers had a chance to clinch the title at home.

"To get a ticket for that game was almost impossible, because everyone thought that would be the night," Dias said. "But a woman with season tickets called me, and said she wanted to sell her tickets. She broke her elbow roller blading, and she was afraid there was going to be a riot if the Rangers won. She thought I sounded like a true fan, so she sold them to me."

Bad move, according to Moyles -- the woman who would sell her soul.

"If you have a ticket and sold it, you're not a true fan," she said. "I'll tell you a true fan -- I have a friend who for Game 5 sold a Wayne Gretzky rookie card for $500 to go to the game. If I had the card and needed to go, I'd probably do it, too."

But she doesn't have to sell. She'll be in the house alongside the other die-hard fans, most sporting Rangers jerseys that -- at $85 for a replica and $200 for a game jersey -- have been flying off the shelves of local sporting goods stores.

A loss tonight might not be the end of the world for the fans, who've gotten little in return for their devotion. But it sure will be close.

"I'm a little pessimistic going in. The past history has a lot to do with it and I guess I don't want to have a big letdown after such a huge buildup," Moyles said. "If we lose I don't know if I'll come to work the next day. I will cry. I've warned people they won't be able to come within 10 feet of me.

"But if we win, it will be insanity," she said, smiling. "The Garden will be unlike anything you've ever seen. I'm hoping for the insanity."

And many others hope as well.

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